On the fourth album of his Greatest Hits boxed set, Joel said he was visiting his estranged father in Vienna, Austria, when he saw an elderly woman sweeping the streets. He commented that it was awful to have an old woman doing that kind of work. His father said something like, "No, it isn't. She's being useful and she's doing a service that benefits everyone. She's not just sitting at home wasting away, and she's got dignity." Joel realized how American culture can push aside the elderly and strip them of their purpose and worth.
Billy's parents got divorced when he was young, and his father, Howard Joel, returned to his homeland of Vienna where he got married and started a new family. When Billy appeared on The Howard Stern show in 2010, Joel revealed that he doesn't always know what a song is about when he writes it, and he came to realize that he was dealing with his feelings about his father in this song.
On another Howard Stern appearance Joel said that the song came to him very quickly, in what he called "a Promethean moment." Describing his message in the song, he explained: "It was an observation that you have your whole life to live. A lot of people in their 20s think they have to get it all together by their 30s and they kill themselves trying to get the golden ring. You have an entire life to live. The lyrics, 'slow down you crazy child' - in other words, you have a whole life. We tend to put older people away, and it's all about young people. Well, wait a minute, why do I have this whole lifespan? What's the point of it? Some people will get there sooner, and some people will get there later. Slow down, you're going to be fine. No matter what you do, be good at it, and whenever you get there, you get there."
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